Carmen Tafolla, the Texas state poet laureate, believes libraries are more than just buildings with books and periodicals. A library, the San Antonio native says, inspires creative people. It can strengthen community members with knowledge.
Tafolla and other advocates for the San Antonio Public Library have said the Central Library is more special with the presence of the Latino Collection, which collects and rents books and literary publications related to Latino culture and heritage.
The collection consists of more than 10,000 monographs written in English and/or Spanish and emphasizes the Mexican-American experience.
The challenge for library system officials and supporters is that the Latino Collection is currently tucked away on the sixth floor of the iconic Central Library. Library officials want to move the collection into the former Teen Center on the first floor. The Teen Center has recently moved into a larger space on the third floor. The Latino Collection would share the prominent space to allow easier access for teens, scholars, and educators. That is, if advocates can raise enough money to support the Latino Collection’s move.
The San Antonio Public Library Foundation’s Latino Leadership for the Library (L3) Committee seeks to raise $300,000 by the end of this year to move the vast collection to the first floor. Jordan Vexler, chairwoman of the L3 Committee, told the Rivard Report that the project is less than $200,000 short of its goal.
The new 5,000 sq. ft. Latino Collection and Resource Center will facilitate a celebration of Latinos and their literary contributions, according to SAPL officials
The new space will include study rooms, workshop areas and a gallery space as well as programming like creative writing classes.
A crowd of library officials, supporters and noted local Latino writers gathered for a celebration of sorts in the future Latino Collection space Wednesday night. Renderings of the new space were on display
The bold color scheme is reflective of the vibrancy that library supporters speak of when referring to the arts and the richness of Latino literature.
Vexler said moving the Latino Collection to a bigger, more visible space at the SAPL’s main branch would make the facility a full-service center – another feather in San Antonio’s cultural evolution cap.
“San Antonio is indeed a city on the rise. It’s diverse and progressive,” Vexler said. “I hope it inspires authors, researchers and lifelong learners and so much more.”
City Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) told the crowd that inclusiveness and a respect for San Antonio’s cultural heritage are the messages behind the move of the Latino Collection.
“We want people to feel like they belong. Investment in cultural capital is the best investment you could make,” Treviño said.
Library Director Ramiro Salazar said the main branch’s former teen space will “be transformed into something more beautiful than what you see now.”
Salazar thanked not only SAPL staff and supporters, but noted leaders in local literary circles and artistic organizations in the crowd. They included playwright Gregg Barrios, artist Jesse Treviño, Sheila Black, executive artistic director of Gemini Ink, and Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center.
Salazar said these, and other like-minded individuals, support giving the Latino Collection a higher profile at the public library system.
Gemini Ink and the Esperanza Center are among the local groups that will help with literary programming at the new Latino Collection space, such as creative writing classes for teenagers. Locating the new space will be easier for users, too. Salazar said some existing bookshelves near the space on the first floor will be shortened, and signs will be posted, guiding the way for visitors as they enter the building.
“This is a very special project, to create a space that will empower the community, especially the literary community,” Salazar said.
“This is la casa de todos, a place for everyone,” said Ybarra y Frausto, formerly the associate director for creativity and culture at the Rockefeller Foundation. He is now retired in San Antonio. In 2014, Ybarra y Frausto donated a large portion of his private collection of works by Latino writers to the SAPL’s Latino Collection.
“I could have given my collection to anyone but I chose the public library, this one, because it is an open, democratic place,” Ybarra y Frausto said. He explained that the Texana/genealogy room at the Central Library, also on the sixth floor, was instrumental in his effort to write a history of San Antonio.
For some individuals in the community, he said, the library is the only place to access information and learning, whether it is reading a newspaper, using a computer, or reading a book, which is free, important information. The basic idea of the public library is to connect learning with society, he said.
Ybarra y Frausto noted that when San Antonio celebrates the 300th anniversary of its settlement in 2018, it will be a time to recognize how Spanish and Latino cultures contributed to the city’s initial development. That, he added, will help to guide a new and future generation of Latino writers, authors and leaders.
“The past is only significant in informing the present,” he said.
Santos explained that moving and expanding the Latino Collection space is a significant part of the San Antonio Public Library’s growth. It’s part of a journey, he said, that goes back to the first main library at what had been the Hertzberg Circus Museum in later years.
He added the Latino Collection “is rooted in this ancient story” dating back to Aztec rule in Mexico and a journey through the formation of the United States, in colonial times, and into the modern age.
“It’s an extraordinary story and libraries are integral to how we have gotten to know this story,” said Santos, who worked and lived in New York for 21 years before returning to his hometown of San Antonio.
Santos’s award-winning book, “Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation,” was the SAPL’s first selection in its One Book/One San Antonio program, which encouraged local readers to read and discuss the book. He owes a great deal to the existence of public libraries.
“Libraries continue to be a place of transformation for all of us. San Antonio has become this extraordinary cultural capital,” he said.
Tafolla said she is excited by the possibilities the new Latino Collection offers in her hometown. She spoke of growing up on the city’s Westside. In her youth, Tafolla would go on journeys with her family to the nearest public library.
Tafolla said she was easily impressed as a child when visiting the old Hertzberg library location, giddy at the sight of the elephant statue outside the front entrance. The Briscoe Western Art Museum now stands at the previous site of the old main library/circus museum.
When a public library was finally built on the Westside, on Buena Vista Street, “It was the most magical place,” Tafolla recalled.
“I’m from way back. Being from way back in San Antonio means you remember what was possible and what was once considered impossible,” she said.
Tafolla said the Latino Collection at the SAPL is vital because it contains histories and stories to which she can relate.
“There was a time when there wasn’t a Latino collection. There was nothing that even proved we casually passed through this continent,” she said. “Now we have one.”
Tafolla told the crowd that current and future contributions to the Latino Collection at the Central Library should serve to inspire generations to come.
“Words have power. Stories have power. Your voices and stories also have power,” she said. “I feel the power of this collection as a resource center is limitless.”
While many members of the L3 Committee and the Library Foundation have already donated to the Latino Collection project or pledged to do so, word of mouth about the fundraising campaign is key, Vexler told the Rivard Report.
Vexler said people should not be dissuaded from the seemingly tight fundraising deadline of Dec. 31. She also said it’s crucial to move the Latino Collection in a timely manner while momentum for its relocation grows.
“We’d want this space to be used, to be filled up, sooner rather than later,” she said.
For more information about the Latino Collection and opportunities to support fundraising activities, contact Library Foundation President Tracey Bennett at (210) 225-4728, ext. 11 or email@example.com.
*Top image: Local artists perform at the future of the Latino Collection & Resource Center at the Central Library. Photo by Scott Ball.